Task-Based LanguageTeaching
C A M B R I D G E L A N G U A G E T E A C H I N G L I B R A RYA series covering central issues in language teaching and le...
Task-Based LanguageTeachingDavid NunanUniversity of Hong Kong
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESSCambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São PauloCambridge University Pres...
Designing Tasks was dedicated to my young daughters Jenny and Rebecca.This work is dedicated to my grown-up daughters, Jen...
ContentsAcknowledgements         xiIntroduction xiiiChapter 1   What is task-based language teaching?            Introduct...
ContentsChapter 4   An empirical basis for task-based language            teaching            Introduction and overview   ...
ContentsChapter 8    Tasks and teacher development             Introduction and overview    166             The self-direc...
AcknowledgementsThanks to Mickey Bonin, who first encouraged me to take on thisproject, and to Alison Sharpe and Jane Walsh...
IntroductionThe purpose of the bookThis book began life as the second edition to Designing Tasks for theCommunicative Clas...
Introduction   In addition to a complete revamping and updating of principles andideas from Designing Tasks, I felt four a...
IntroductionChapters 5 and 6 of the original volume, as well as a considerableamount of new content.   Task-based language...
1      What is task-based language teaching?Introduction and overviewThe concept of ‘task’ has become an important element...
What is task-based language teaching?   Long (1985: 89) frames his approach to task-based language teachingin terms of tar...
Defining ‘task’than in the world outside the classroom. They also emphasize the impor-tance of having a non-linguistic outc...
What is task-based language teaching?           to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language        ...
Broader curricular considerationfor determining whether the goals and objectives have been achieved(assessment and evaluat...
What is task-based language teaching?   My own approach to curriculum has been strongly influenced byStenhouse. I draw a di...
Communicative language teachingsimply as a process of habit formation. Learners and the cognitive pro-cesses they engage i...
What is task-based language teaching?           functional–notional concepts of language use and . . . a threshold        ...
Communicative language teaching   Under this scenario, what happens to the product-oriented approachwhich emphasizes the l...
What is task-based language teaching?  Reflect  What do you see as the role of grammar in the communicative  language curri...
Alternative approaches to syllabus designand ‘analytical’ approaches. All syllabuses, he suggested, fitted one orother of t...
What is task-based language teaching?    Reflect    Make a list of the pros and cons of analytic and synthetic    approache...
Policy and practiceKohonen highlights the fit between experiential learning and otherkey concepts introduced in this chapte...
What is task-based language teaching?          and explore both spoken and written language through learning          acti...
The role of the learnercontain similar elements to traditional curricula, a key difference is thatinformation about learne...
What is task-based language teaching?way and attach the same ‘meanings’ to it. Nor does it absolve the teacherfrom the res...
ReferencesBygate, M., P. Skehan and M. Swain (eds). 2001. Researching Pedagogic Tasks:     Second language learning, teach...
What is task-based language teaching?Richards, J., J. Platt and H. Weber. 1986. Longman Dictionary of Applied    Linguisti...
2     A framework for task-based language      teachingIntroduction and overviewIn the first section of this chapter, I int...
A framework for task-based language teachingA rehearsal task bears a clear and obvious relationship to its correspond-ing ...
A framework for task-based language teachingcan only carry 20 kilos of items in it. Decide which of the following itemsyou...
A framework for task-based language teachingrole for grammar, but that this role is to provide affective support to thelea...
A framework for task-based language teachingLanguage exercise: lexical focusA Complete the word map with jobs from the lis...
A framework for task-based language teaching   Communicative activities represent a kind of ‘half-way house’ betweenlangua...
Syllabus design considerations       Real-world / target tasks          Pedagogical tasks                       Enabling s...
A framework for task-based language teachingConsider the following tasks:1. Look at the map with your partner. You are at ...
Syllabus design considerationsExample 2 provides a different set of tasks realizing the same macrofunc-tion of ‘exchanging...
A framework for task-based language teachingThe third example illustrates the second macrofunction, that of social-izing. ...
Syllabus design considerationsTheme: The neighbourhood  Tasks                    Macrofunctions   Microfunctions   Grammar...
A framework for task-based language teachingFunctions are more abstract realizations than tasks of the things we dowith la...
Developing units of work  Reflect  Select one or two pedagogical tasks and elaborate them in terms of  macrofunctions, micr...
A framework for task-based language teachinglearning that was initiated in step 1. They could then be asked to practisevar...
Developing units of worklanguage models provided by the teacher and the materials. At this point,it is time for the studen...
A framework for task-based language teachingA pedagogical sequence for introducing tasks Step 1                           ...
Seven principles for task-based language teaching  Step 6                                Example  Pedagogical task        ...
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
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'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
'Task based language teaching' - nunan david
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  1. 1. Task-Based LanguageTeaching
  2. 2. C A M B R I D G E L A N G U A G E T E A C H I N G L I B R A RYA series covering central issues in language teaching and learning, by authors whohave expert knowledge in their field.In this series:Affect in Language Learning edited by Jane ArnoldApproaches and Methods in Language Teaching second edition by Jack C. Richards and Theodore S. RodgersBeyond Training by Jack C. RichardsClassroom Decision-Making edited by Michael Breen and Andrew LittlejohnCollaborative Action Research for English Language Teachers by Anne BurnsCollaborative Language Learning and Teaching edited by David NunanCommunicative Language Teaching by William LittlewoodDeveloping Reading Skills by Françoise GrelletDevelopments in English for Specific Purposes by Tony Dudley-Evans and Maggie Jo St JohnDiscourse Analysis for Language Teachers by Michael McCarthyDiscourse and Language Education by Evelyn HatchThe Dynamics of the Language Classroom by Ian TudorEnglish for Academic Purposes by R. R. JordanEnglish for Specific Purposes by Tom Hutchinson and Alan WatersEstablishing Self-Access by David Gardner and Lindsay MillerForeign and Second Language Learning by William LittlewoodGroup Dynamics in the Language Classroom by Zoltán Dörnyei and Tim MurpheyLanguage Learning in Distance Education by Cynthia WhiteLanguage Learning in Intercultural Perspective edited by Michael Byram and Michael FlemingThe Language Teaching Matrix by Jack C. RichardsLanguage Test Construction and Evaluation by J. Charles Alderson, Caroline Clapham and Dianne WallLearner-Centredness as Language Education by Ian TudorManaging Curricular Innovation by Numa MarkeeMaterials Development in Language Teaching edited by Brian TomlinsonMotivational Strategies in the Language Classroom by Zoltán DörnyeiPsychology for Language Teachers by Marion Williams and Robert L. BurdenResearch Methods in Language Learning by David NunanRules, Patterns and Words: Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching by Dave WillisSecond Language Teacher Education edited by Jack C. Richards and David NunanSociety and the Language Classroom edited by Hywel ColemanTeaching Languages to Young Learners by Lynne CameronTeacher Learning in Language Teaching edited by Donald Freeman and Jack C. RichardsTesting for Language Teachers second edition by Arthur HughesUnderstanding Research in Second Language Learning by James Dean BrownUsing Surveys in Language Programs by James Dean BownVocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy edited by Norbert Schmitt and Michael McCarthyVocabulary, Semantics and Language Education by Evelyn Hatch and Cheryl BrownVoices from the Language Classroom edited by Kathleen M. Bailey and David Nunan
  3. 3. Task-Based LanguageTeachingDavid NunanUniversity of Hong Kong
  4. 4. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESSCambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São PauloCambridge University PressThe Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UKPublished in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New Yorkwww.cambridge.orgInformation on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521840170© Cambridge University Press 2004This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to theprovision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any partmay take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.First published in print format 2004ISBN-13 978-0-511-66733-6 OCeISBNISBN-13 978-0-521-84017-0 hardbackISBN-13 978-0-521-54947-9 paperbackCambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracyof urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,accurate or appropriate.
  5. 5. Designing Tasks was dedicated to my young daughters Jenny and Rebecca.This work is dedicated to my grown-up daughters, Jenny and Rebecca.
  6. 6. ContentsAcknowledgements xiIntroduction xiiiChapter 1 What is task-based language teaching? Introduction and overview 1 Defining ‘task’ 1 Broader curricular consideration 4 Communicative language teaching 6 Alternative approaches to syllabus design 10 Experiential learning 12 Policy and practice 13 The role of the learner 14 Conclusion 16 References 16Chapter 2 A framework for task-based language teaching Introduction and overview 19 A framework for task-based language teaching 19 Syllabus design considerations 25 Developing units of work 31 Seven principles for task-based language teaching 35 Conclusion 38 References 38Chapter 3 Task components Introduction and overview 40 Goals 41 Input 47 Procedures 52 Task types 56 Teacher and learner roles 64 Settings 70 Conclusion 73 References 73 vii
  7. 7. ContentsChapter 4 An empirical basis for task-based language teaching Introduction and overview 76 Early psycholinguistic models 76 Interaction, output and the negotiation of meaning 79 Task difficulty 85 Conclusion 90 References 91Chapter 5 Focus on form in task-based language teaching Introduction and overview 93 Theoretical and empirical issues 93 Focused versus unfocused tasks 94 Consciousness-raising tasks 98 Procedural language 100 The place of a focus on form in an instructional sequence 101 Focus on form in the communicative classroom 103 Conclusion 111 References 112Chapter 6 Grading, sequencing and integrating tasks Introduction and overview 113 Grading input 114 Learner factors 118 Procedural factors 122 Task continuity 125 Within-task sequencing: the information gap 128 Topic-based / theme-based instruction 131 Content-based instruction 131 Project-based instruction 133 Conclusion 135 References 136Chapter 7 Assessing task-based language teaching Introduction and overview 138 Key concepts in assessment 138 The purposes of assessment 147 Self-assessment 149 Techniques for collecting assessment data 153 Criteria for assessing learner performance 161 Conclusion 164 References 164viii
  8. 8. ContentsChapter 8 Tasks and teacher development Introduction and overview 166 The self-directed teacher 166 An in-service workshop 168 Evaluating tasks 173 Creating tasks 175 Conclusion 177 Postscript 177 References 179Appendix A Approaches and methods – an overview 181Appendix B A unit of work based on the six-step procedure presented in Chapter 2 187Appendix C A unit of work based on the task/exercise typology in Chapter 5 195Appendix D Graded activities for the four macroskills 202Appendix E Common reference levels: self-assessment grid 210Glossary 212Index 218 ix
  9. 9. AcknowledgementsThanks to Mickey Bonin, who first encouraged me to take on thisproject, and to Alison Sharpe and Jane Walsh for their editorial guidance.Particular thanks to the anonymous reviewers of an earlier draft of thisbook who provided many insightful criticisms and suggestions. Needlessto say, remaining shortcomings are mine alone. xi
  10. 10. IntroductionThe purpose of the bookThis book began life as the second edition to Designing Tasks for theCommunicative Classroom. The original volume was written in the mid-1980s, and was published in 1989. At that time, task-based languageteaching was beginning to arouse attention. Although it was more thana distant prospect, it was far from a mainstream concept. As with theoriginal book, this volume is aimed at practising teachers in ELT andapplied linguists (teacher trainers, language planners, and materialswriters), as well as teachers in preparation. When I began working on this volume, I quickly realized how far thefield had come. It was brought home to me that I was embarking on thecreation not of a second edition but of a completely new book, and thatin consequence it deserved a new title. Recently, I completed a study into the impact on policies and practicesof the emergence of English as a global language (Nunan 2002, 2003).Data were collected from a range of countries in the Asia-Pacific regionincluding Japan, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea andMalaysia. In interviews with teachers, teacher educators and ministryofficials, and from a study of curriculum guidelines and syllabuses, ‘task-based language teaching’ emerged as a central concept. At the same time,I was involved in preparing a publication proposal for China on behalfof a commercial publisher. I was given a reasonable degree of latitude inputting the proposal together, but was informed that in order to be con-sidered by the Ministry of Education it had to contain ‘task-based lan-guage teaching’ as its ruling rubric. These two anecdotes illustrate the extent to which the concept hasmoved to the centre ground, rhetorically at least. However, it still has along way to go to become rooted in classroom practice. In workshopsand seminars in different parts of the world, I am constantly asked byteachers, ‘What is task-based language teaching, and how do I make itwork?’ This book is an attempt to answer both parts of that question.As with Designing Tasks, the purpose of the book is to provide teacherswith a practical introduction to task-based language teaching along withthe theoretical and empirical bases that support it. xiii
  11. 11. Introduction In addition to a complete revamping and updating of principles andideas from Designing Tasks, I felt four areas deserved their own chapter-length treatment. These were:• A model for task-based language teaching (TBLT) that articulated the relationship between tasks and other curricular elements.• The empirical basis for TBLT.• The place of a focus on form in TBLT.• Assessing TBLT.In order to accommodate these new chapters, chapters in the originalbook had to be dropped, condensed or otherwise rearranged. The struc-ture of the present book is described below.The structure of the bookChapter 1 defines the notion of ‘task’ and illustrates the ways in whichit will be used. The relationship between task-based language teachingand communicative language teaching is discussed and set within abroader curriculum framework. Ideological assumptions about thenature of language pedagogy inherent in TBLT are also discussed. In thefinal part of the chapter I look at the impact of the concept of TBLT onboth the learner and on institutional policy and practice. The first section of Chapter 2 introduces a framework for TBLT. Theframework defines and exemplifies the key elements in the model thatunderlies the rest of the book. The sections that follow outline a proce-dure for creating an integrated syllabus around the concept of the peda-gogic task and discuss issues of lesson planning and materials design. Thefinal section summarises the key principles underpinning TBLT. Chapter 3 looks at the key elements that constitute a task, namely, taskgoals, input and procedures. The chapter also deals with teacher andlearner roles as well as the settings for TBLT. One notable aspect of TBLT has been an explosion in the amount ofresearch stimulated by the subject. The purpose of Chapter 4 is toprovide a summary of this research. One area of particular interest is thatof task difficulty. The research covered here provides a basis for the sub-sequent discussion of task grading. The place of a focus on form in TBLT remains controversial. InChapter 5, I examine the nature of the controversy, and spell out whereI see a focus on form fitting in to a task-based instructional cycle. Chapter 6 looks at issues and difficulties associated with the gradingof tasks as well as at options for sequencing and integrating tasks intolessons or units of work. This chapter contains updated material fromxiv
  12. 12. IntroductionChapters 5 and 6 of the original volume, as well as a considerableamount of new content. Task-based language teaching presents challenges in all areas of thecurriculum. This is particularly true for assessment, which is comingunder increasing scrutiny as it is realized that TBLT cannot be assessedaccording to traditional methods. In Chapter 7, I look at key concepts,issues and controversies in assessment and relate these to TBLT. Chapter 8 is devoted to tasks and teacher development. The purposeof this chapter is to look at task construction and evaluation from theperspective of the teacher, and to provide suggestions for introducingtasks in teacher development workshops.ReferencesNunan, D. 2002. English as a global language: Counting the cost. Featured pres- entation, TESOL International Convention, Salt Lake City, March 2002.Nunan, D. 2003. The impact of English as a global language on educational policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 4, Winter 2003. xv
  13. 13. 1 What is task-based language teaching?Introduction and overviewThe concept of ‘task’ has become an important element in syllabusdesign, classroom teaching and learner assessment. It underpins severalsignificant research agendas, and it has influenced educational policy-making in both ESL and EFL settings. Pedagogically, task-based language teaching has strengthened the fol-lowing principles and practices:• A needs-based approach to content selection.• An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.• The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.• The provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on lan- guage but also on the learning process itself.• An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as impor- tant contributing elements to classroom learning.• The linking of classroom language learning with language use outside the classroom.In this chapter, I will map out the terrain for the rest of the book. I willfirstly define ‘task’ and illustrate the ways in which it will be used. I willthen relate it to communicative language teaching and set it within abroader curriculum framework, as well as spelling out the assumptionsabout pedagogy drawn on by the concept. In the final part of the chapterI will look at the impact of the concept on the learner, on one hand, andon institutional policy and practice on the other.Defining ‘task’Before doing anything else, I need to define the central concept behindthis book. In doing so, I will draw a basic distinction between what I willcall real-world or target tasks, and pedagogical tasks: target tasks, as thename implies, refer to uses of language in the world beyond the class-room; pedagogical tasks are those that occur in the classroom. 1
  14. 14. What is task-based language teaching? Long (1985: 89) frames his approach to task-based language teachingin terms of target tasks, arguing that a target task is: a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. Thus examples of tasks include painting a fence, dressing a child, filling out a form, buying a pair of shoes, making an airline reservation, borrowing a library book, taking a driving test, typing a letter, weighing a patient, sorting letters, making a hotel reservation, writing a cheque, finding a street destination and helping someone across a road. In other words, by ‘task’ is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between.The first thing to notice about this definition is that it is non-technicaland non-linguistic. It describes the sorts of things that the person in thestreet would say if asked what they were doing. (In the same way aslearners, if asked why they are attending a Spanish course, are morelikely to say, ‘So I can make hotel reservations and buy food when I’m inMexico,’ than ‘So I can master the subjunctive.’) Related to this is thenotion that, in contrast with most classroom language exercises, taskshave a non-linguistic outcome. Non-linguistic outcomes from Long’s listabove might include a painted fence, possession – however temporary –of a book, a driver’s licence, a room in a hotel, etc. Another thing tonotice is that some of the examples provided may not involve languageuse at all (it is possible to paint a fence without talking). Finally, individ-ual tasks may be part of a larger sequence of tasks; for example the taskof weighing a patient may be a sub-component of the task ‘giving amedical examination’. When they are transformed from the real world to the classroom, tasksbecome pedagogical in nature. Here is a definition of a pedagogical task: . . . an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language (i.e. as a response). For example, drawing a map while listening to a tape, listening to an instruction and performing a command may be referred to as tasks. Tasks may or may not involve the production of language. A task usually requires the teacher to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. The use of a variety of different kinds of tasks in language teaching is said to make language teaching more communicative . . . since it provides a purpose for a classroom activity which goes beyond the practice of language for its own sake. (Richards, et al. 1986: 289)In this definition, we can see that the authors take a pedagogical perspec-tive. Tasks are defined in terms of what the learners will do in class rather2
  15. 15. Defining ‘task’than in the world outside the classroom. They also emphasize the impor-tance of having a non-linguistic outcome. Breen (1987: 23) offers another definition of a pedagogical task: . . . any structured language learning endeavour which has a particular objective, appropriate content, a specified working procedure, and a range of outcomes for those who undertake the task. ‘Task’ is therefore assumed to refer to a range of workplans which have the overall purposes of facilitating language learning – from the simple and brief exercise type, to more complex and lengthy activities such as group problem-solving or simulations and decision-making.This definition is very broad, implying as it does that just about anythingthe learner does in the classroom qualifies as a task. It could, in fact, beused to justify any procedure at all as ‘task-based’ and, as such, is notparticularly helpful. More circumscribed is the following from Willis(1996), cited in Willis and Willis (2001): a classroom undertaking ‘. . .where the target language is used by the learner for a communicativepurpose (goal) in order to achieve an outcome’. Here the notion ofmeaning is subsumed in ‘outcome’. Language in a communicative task isseen as bringing about an outcome through the exchange of meanings.(p. 173). Skehan (1998), drawing on a number of other writers, puts forwardfive key characteristics of a task:• meaning is primary• learners are not given other people’s meaning to regurgitate• there is some sort of relationship to comparable real-world activities• task completion has some priority• the assessment of the task is in terms of outcome.(See also Bygate, Skehan and Swain 2001, who argue that the way wedefine a task will depend to a certain extent on the purposes to which thetask is used.) Finally, Ellis (2003: 16) defines a pedagogical task in the followingway: A task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content has been conveyed. To this end, it requires them to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, 3
  16. 16. What is task-based language teaching? to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills and also various cognitive processes. My own definition is that a pedagogical task is a piece of classroomwork that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producingor interacting in the target language while their attention is focused onmobilizing their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning,and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipu-late form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being ableto stand alone as a communicative act in its own right with a beginning,a middle and an end. While these definitions vary somewhat, they all emphasize the fact thatpedagogical tasks involve communicative language use in which theuser’s attention is focused on meaning rather than grammatical form.This does not mean that form is not important. My own definition refersto the deployment of grammatical knowledge to express meaning, high-lighting the fact that meaning and form are highly interrelated, and thatgrammar exists to enable the language user to express different commu-nicative meanings. However, as Willis and Willis (2001) point out, tasksdiffer from grammatical exercises in that learners are free to use a rangeof language structures to achieve task outcomes – the forms are not spec-ified in advance. Reflect Drawing on the above discussion, come up with your own definition of a pedagogical ‘task’.In the rest of the book, when I use the term ‘task’ I will be referring, ingeneral, to pedagogical tasks. When the term refers specifically to targetor real-world tasks, this will be indicated.Broader curricular consideration‘Curriculum’ is a large and complex concept, and the term itself is usedin a number of different ways. In some contexts, it is used to refer to aparticular program of study, as in ‘the science curriculum’ or ‘the math-ematics curriculum’. In other contexts, it is synonymous with ‘syllabus’.Over fifty years ago, Ralph Tyler, the ‘father’ of modern curriculumstudy, proposed a ‘rational’ curriculum model that is developed by firstlyidentifying goals and objectives (syllabus), then listing, organizing andgrading learning experiences (methodology), and finally finding means4
  17. 17. Broader curricular considerationfor determining whether the goals and objectives have been achieved(assessment and evaluation) (Tyler 1949). I have placed ‘rational’ inquotation marks because Tyler’s approach is not necessarily morerational than previous curricular proposals. However, it was a cleverrhetorical ploy because critics of the model could be accused of ‘irra-tionality’. Another perspective was presented in the mid-1970s by LawrenceStenhouse who argued that at the very minimum a curriculum shouldoffer the following: A. In planning 1. Principles for the selection of content – what is to be learned and taught. 2. Principles for the development of a teaching strategy – how it is to be learned and taught. 3. Principles for the making of decisions about sequence. 4. Principles on which to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and differentiate the general principles 1, 2 and 3 above to meet individual cases. B. In empirical study 1. Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of students. 2. Principles on which to study and evaluate the progress of teachers. 3. Guidance as to the feasibility of implementing the curriculum in varying school contexts, pupil contexts, environments and peer- group situations. 4. Information about the variability of effects in differing contexts and on different pupils and an understanding of the causes of the variations. C. In relation to justification A formulation of the intention or aim of the curriculum which is accessible to critical scrutiny. (Stenhouse 1975: 5)Stenhouse’s perspective provided a refreshing antidote to the rathermechanistic ‘rational’ curriculum model because it emphasized processas well as product, elevated the teacher as an important agent of curric-ulum development and change, and highlighted the importance of seeingthe curriculum in action. The focus on process and action make it aninteresting model for those interested in task-based curriculum propo-sals. (I should note parenthetically that even though his model is com-prehensive, it is by no means exhaustive. It says little, for example, aboutcurriculum management and monitoring.) 5
  18. 18. What is task-based language teaching? My own approach to curriculum has been strongly influenced byStenhouse. I draw a distinction between the curriculum as plan, thecurriculum as action, and the curriculum as outcome. The curriculumas plan refers to the processes and products that are drawn up prior tothe instructional process. These will include plans and syllabuses, text-book, and other resources, as well as assessment instruments. The cur-riculum as action refers to the moment-by-moment realities of theclassroom as the planned curriculum is enacted. The curriculum asoutcome relates to what students actually learn as a result of theinstructional process. The curriculum as plan consists of three elements: syllabus design,which is concerned with selecting, sequencing and justifying content;methodology, which is concerned with selecting, sequencing and justify-ing learning experiences; and assessment/evaluation, which is concernedwith the selection of assessment and evaluation instruments and proce-dures. This tripartite division works well enough in traditional approaches tocurriculum. However, after the emergence of communicative languageteaching (CLT), the distinction between syllabus design and methodol-ogy becomes more difficult to sustain. At the initial design stage, oneneeds to specify both the content (the ends of learning) and the tasks andlearning procedures (the means to those ends) in an integrated way. Thissuggests a broad approach to curriculum in which concurrent consider-ation is given to content, procedure, and evaluation. In the next chapter,I will set out a framework for doing this. Reflect To what extent does the curriculum you currently use, or a curriculum with which you are familiar, contain the different dimensions described in this section? In terms of the dimensions, where are the gaps in your curriculum? What are the strengths?Communicative language teachingAlthough it is not always immediately apparent, everything we do in theclassroom is underpinned by beliefs about the nature of language, thenature of the learning process and the nature of the teaching act. Thesedays it is generally accepted that language is more than a set of grammat-ical rules, with attendant sets of vocabulary, to be memorized. It is adynamic resource for creating meaning. Learning is no longer seen6
  19. 19. Communicative language teachingsimply as a process of habit formation. Learners and the cognitive pro-cesses they engage in as they learn are seen as fundamentally importantto the learning process. Additionally, in recent years, learning as a socialprocess is increasingly emphasized, and sociocultural theories are begin-ning to be drawn on in addition to (or even in preference to) cognitivetheories (see, for example, Lantolf 2000). Another distinction that has existed in general philosophy and episte-mology for many years is that between ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowinghow’ (see, for example, Ryle 1949), that is, between knowing and beingable to regurgitate sets of grammatical rules, and being able to deploythis grammatical knowledge to communicate effectively. In the days ofaudiolingualism ‘knowing that’ was eschewed in favour of ‘knowinghow’. However, now, the pursuit of both forms of knowledge are con-sidered valid goals of language pedagogy. (This issue is taken up ingreater depth in Chapter 5.) These views underpin communicative language teaching. A great dealhas been said and written about CLT in the last 30 years, and it is some-times assumed that the approach is a unitary one, whereas in reality itconsists of a family of approaches. And, as is the case with most fami-lies, not all members live harmoniously together all of the time. Thereare squabbles and disagreements, if not outright wars, from time to time.However, no one is willing to assert that they do not belong to thefamily. The basic insight that language can be thought of as a tool for com-munication rather than as sets of phonological, grammatical and lexicalitems to be memorized led to the notion of developing different learningprograms to reflect the different communicative needs of disparategroups of learners. No longer was it necessary to teach an item simplybecause it is ‘there’ in the language. A potential tourist to England shouldnot have to take the same course as an air traffic controller in Singaporeor a Columbian engineer preparing for graduate study in the UnitedStates. This insight led to the emergence of English for Specific Purposes(ESP) as an important subcomponent of language teaching, with its ownapproaches to curriculum development, materials design, pedagogy,testing and research. The CLT view of language as action, was nicely captured by Savignon(1993), one of the key architects of CLT, in a state-of-the-art surveyarticle in which she wrote: In Europe, during the 1970s, the language needs of a rapidly increasing group of immigrants and guest workers, and a rich British linguistic tradition that included social as well as linguistic context in description of language behavior, led to the Council of Europe development of a syllabus for learners based on 7
  20. 20. What is task-based language teaching? functional–notional concepts of language use and . . . a threshold level of language ability was described for each of the languages of Europe in terms of what learners should be able to do with the language (van Ek 1975). Functions were based on assessment of learner needs and specified the end result, the product, of an instructional program. The term communicative was used to describe programs that used a functional–notional syllabus based on needs assessment, and the language for specific purposes (LSP) movement was launched. (Savignon 1993: 37)While the ESP/LSP movement initially focused on the end product ofinstructional programs, CLT also forced a re-evaluation of learning pro-cesses. This created a dilemma for syllabus designers whose job it was toproduce ordered lists of items graded according to difficulty, frequencyor pedagogical convenience. With the emergence of CLT, these may nolonger have been principally structural or lexical lists, but lists of func-tions and notions. However, lists they remained. Processes belonged tothe domain of methodology. They were someone else’s business. Theycould not be reduced to lists of items. For a time, it seemed, the syllabusdesigner was out of business. One of the clearest articulations of this dilemma came from Breen. Hesuggested that the solution to the syllabus designer’s dilemma and theresolution to the dichotomy between language product and learningprocess were to see them as one and the same. Rather than separatingthe destination and the route of language learning, they should be seenas indistinguishable. Pedagogy should: . . . prioritize the route itself; a focusing upon the means towards the learning of a new language. Here the designer would give priority to the changing process of learning and the potential of the classroom – to the psychological and social resources applied to a new language by learners in the classroom context. . . . a greater concern with capacity for communication, with the activity of learning a language viewed as important as the language itself, and with a focus upon means rather than predetermined objectives, all indicate priority of process over content. (Breen 1984: 52–3)Breen is suggesting that when we place communication at the centre ofthe curriculum the goal of that curriculum (individuals who are capableof communicating in the target language) and the means (classroom pro-cedures that develop this capability) begin to merge: learners learn tocommunicate by communicating. The ends and the means become oneand the same.8
  21. 21. Communicative language teaching Under this scenario, what happens to the product-oriented approachwhich emphasizes the listing of structures and the specifying of end-of-course objectives? Can a place be found for them in CLT? This issue isparticularly crucial when considering the place of grammar. For sometime after the rise of CLT, the status of grammar in the curriculumseemed rather uncertain. Some linguists maintained that an explicitfocus on form was unnecessary, that the ability to use a second lan-guage (‘knowing how’) would develop automatically if learners focusedon meaning in the process of completing tasks. (See, for example,Krashen 1981, 1982). In recent years, this view has come under chal-lenge (Swain 1985, 1996; Doughty and Williams 1998), and there isnow widespread acceptance that a focus on form has a place in theclassroom. It is also accepted that grammar is an essential resource inmaking meaning (Halliday 1994; Hammond and Derewianka 2001).At present, debate centres on the extent to which a grammar syllabusshould be embedded in the curriculum, some arguing that a focus onform should be an incidental activity in the communicative classroom(Long and Robinson 1998). These issues are taken up and elaboratedon in Chapter 5. Littlewood (1981) draws a distinction between a strong and a weakinterpretation of CLT. The strong interpretation eschews a focus onform, while a weak interpretation acknowledges the need for such afocus. In making his case for a weak interpretation, Littlewood arguesthat the following skills need to be taken into consideration. • The learner must attain as high a degree as possible of linguistic competence. That is, he must develop skill in manipulating the linguistic system, to the point where he can use it spontaneously and flexibly in order to express his intended message. • The learner must distinguish between the forms he has mastered as part of his linguistic competence, and the communicative functions which they perform. In other words, items mastered as part of a linguistic system must also be understood as part of a communicative system. • The learner must develop skills and strategies for using language to communicate meaning as effectively as possible in concrete situations. He must learn to use feedback to judge his success, and, if necessary, remedy failure by using different language. • The learner must become aware of the social meaning of language forms. For many learners, this may not entail the ability to vary their own speech to suit different social circumstances, but rather the ability to use generally acceptable forms and avoid potentially offensive ones. (Littlewood 1981: 6) 9
  22. 22. What is task-based language teaching? Reflect What do you see as the role of grammar in the communicative language curriculum? Do you think that an explicit focus on grammar should be part of the learning experience? If so, do you think that the selection and grading of linguistic elements (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation features, function, notions, etc.) should be carried out separately from the selection and sequencing of learning tasks?My own position is that the curriculum needs to take account of bothmeans and ends, and must, in consequence, incorporate both contentand process. In the final analysis, it does not matter whether thoseresponsible for specifying learning tasks are called ‘syllabus designers’ or‘methodologists’. What matters is that both processes and outcomes aretaken care of and that there is compatibility between them. Whatever theposition taken, there is no doubt that the development of CLT has hada profound effect on both methodology and syllabus design, and hasgreatly enhanced the status of the concept of ‘task’ within the curricu-lum. This last comment raises the question of the relationship betweencommunicative language teaching and task-based language teaching.Are the terms synonymous? If so, why have two terms for the samenotion? If not, wherein lies the difference? The answer is that CLT is abroad, philosophical approach to the language curriculum that draws ontheory and research in linguistics, anthropology, psychology and sociol-ogy. (For a review of the theoretical and empirical roots of CLT, seeSavignon 1993). Task-based language teaching represents a realizationof this philosophy at the levels of syllabus design and methodology.Other realizations that could fairly claim to reside within the CLT familyinclude content-based instruction (Brinton 2003), text-based syllabuses(Feez 1998), problem-based learning, and immersion education(Johnston and Swain 1997). It is also possible to find essentiallygrammar-based curricula that fit comfortably within the overarchingphilosophy of CLT. This is particularly true of curricula based on genretheory and systemic-functional linguistics (Burns 2001; Hammond andDerewianka 2001).Alternative approaches to syllabus designIn a seminal publication in 1976, David Wilkins suggested a basic dis-tinction between what he called ‘synthetic’ approaches to syllabus design10
  23. 23. Alternative approaches to syllabus designand ‘analytical’ approaches. All syllabuses, he suggested, fitted one orother of these approaches. In ‘synthetic’ approaches, ‘Different parts of the language are taughtseparately and step by step so that acquisition is a process of gradualaccumulation of parts until the whole structure of language has beenbuilt up’ (Wilkins 1976: 2). Such approaches represent the ‘traditional’way of organizing the syllabus, and reflect the common-sense belief thatthe central role of instruction is to simplify the learning challenge for thestudent. One way to simplify learning is to break the content down intoits constituent parts, and introduce each part separately and step by step. A related concept that was popular in the 1960s was that of masterylearning. Having broken the subject matter down and sequenced it fromeasy to difficult, each item of content was introduced to the learner in aserial fashion, and a new item was not supposed to be introduced untilthe current item had been thoroughly mastered (thus the label ‘masterylearning’). In the case of second language acquisition, however, it seemed thatlearners did not acquire one item perfectly one at a time. Rather theylearned numerous items imperfectly, and often almost simultaneously. Inaddition, the learning was unstable. An item that appeared to have beenacquired at one point in time seemed to have been ‘unlearned’ at a sub-sequent point in time (Ellis 1994). Research into processes of second language acquisition would appearto offer support for the alternative offered by Wilkins to synthetic sylla-buses. These are known as ‘analytical’ approaches because the learner ispresented with holistic ‘chunks’ of language and is required to analyzethem, or break them down into their constituent parts: Prior analysis of the total language system into a set of discrete pieces of language that is a necessary precondition for the adoption of a synthetic approach is largely superfluous. . . . [Such approaches] are organized in terms of the purposes for which people are learning language and the kinds of language that are necessary to meet these purposes. (Wilkins 1976: 13)All syllabus proposals that do not depend on a prior analysis of the lan-guage belong to this second category. In addition to task-based sylla-buses, we have project-based, content-based, thematic, and text-basedsyllabuses. Despite their differences, they all have one thing in common– they do not rely on prior analysis of the language into its discrete points. Of course, one needs to exercise judgement when introducing learnersto texts and tasks containing a wide range of language structures. Thisis particularly true in the early stages of the learning process. 11
  24. 24. What is task-based language teaching? Reflect Make a list of the pros and cons of analytic and synthetic approaches to syllabus design.Experiential learningAn important conceptual basis for task-based language teaching is expe-riential learning. This approach takes the learner’s immediate personalexperience as the point of departure for the learning experience.Intellectual growth occurs when learners engage in and reflect onsequences of tasks. The active involvement of the learner is thereforecentral to the approach, and a rubric that conveniently captures theactive, experiential nature of the process is ‘learning by doing’. In this, itcontrasts with a ‘transmission’ approach to education in which thelearner acquires knowledge passively from the teacher. Experiential learning has diverse roots in a range of disciplines fromsocial psychology, humanistic education, developmental education andcognitive theory. The person who pulled these diverse, though related,strands together was the psychologist David Kolb, who argued for anintegration of action and reflection. In his model (Kolb 1984), learnersmove from what they already know and can do to the incorporation ofnew knowledge and skills. They do this by making sense of some imme-diate experience, and then going beyond the immediate experiencethrough a process of reflection and transformation. The most articulate application of experiential learning to languageteaching is provided by Kohonen (1992). In many respects, his model canbe seen as a theoretical blueprint for TBLT, as can be seen from the fol-lowing list of precepts for action derived from his work.• Encourage the transformation of knowledge within the learner rather than the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the learner.• Encourage learners to participate actively in small, collaborative groups (I see group and pair work as important, although I recognise that there are many contexts where class size makes pair and group work difficult).• Embrace a holistic attitude towards subject matter rather than a static, atomistic and hierarchical attitude.• Emphasize process rather than product, learning how to learn, self- inquiry, social and communication skills.• Encourage self-directed rather than teacher-directed learning.• Promote intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.12
  25. 25. Policy and practiceKohonen highlights the fit between experiential learning and otherkey concepts introduced in this chapter, particularly those of learner-centredness and autonomy: Experiential learning theory provides the basic philosophical view of learning as part of personal growth. The goal is to enable the learner to become increasingly self-directed and responsible for his or her own learning. This process means a gradual shift of the initiative to the learner, encouraging him or her to bring in personal contributions and experiences. Instead of the teacher setting the tasks and standards of acceptable performance, the learner is increasingly in charge of his or her own learning. (Kohonen 1992: 37) Reflect Select two or three of these principles and brainstorm ways of implementing them in the language classroom.Policy and practiceFifteen years ago, task-based language teaching was still an innovationat the level of official policy and practice, although it was used as acentral construct in a number of emerging research agendas (which arereviewed in Chapter 4). While there were several exciting proposals forpedagogy, few had actually been implemented. If official documents are to be believed, TBLT has become a corner-stone of many educational institutions and ministries of educationaround the world. It seems to be the new orthodoxy with major publish-ers, most of whom claim at least one major series to be ‘task-based’. Ina recent study into the impact of the emergence of English as a globallanguage on policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region, governmentinformants in all seven of the countries surveyed claimed that task-basedteaching was a central principle driving their English language curricula(Nunan 2002, 2003). The following quote from the Hong KongMinistry of Education is typical of the kinds of governmental pronounce-ments being made:1 The task-based approach [upon which the curriculum is built] aims at providing opportunities for learners to experiment with1 The quote refers to ‘task-based language learning’, but in this book I follow the conventional terminology of calling such an approach ‘task-based language teaching’. 13
  26. 26. What is task-based language teaching? and explore both spoken and written language through learning activities that are designed to engage learners in the authentic, practical and functional use of language for meaningful purposes. Learners are encouraged to activate and use whatever language they already have in the process of completing a task. The use of tasks will also give a clear and purposeful context for the teaching and learning of grammar and other language features as well as skills. . . . All in all, the role of task-based language learning is to stimulate a natural desire in learners to improve their language competence by challenging them to complete meaningful tasks. (CDC 1999: 41)Whether the rhetoric matches the reality is another matter. In a studypublished in 1987, I reported a large gap between the rhetoric and thereality in relation to CLT. Schools that claimed to be teaching accordingto principles of CLT were doing nothing of the sort (Nunan 1987). Isuspect the same is true today of TBLT. When asked to describe whatTBLT is and how it is realized in the classroom, many people are hardpressed to do so. There are two possible interpretations for this. On theone hand it may partly reflect the fact that, as with CLT, there are numer-ous interpretations and orientations to the concept. That multiple per-spectives and applications have developed is not necessarily a bad thing;in fact, it is probably good that the concept has the power to speak todifferent people in different ways. On the other hand it may simply be acase of ‘old wine in new bottles’: schools embracing the new ‘orthodoxy’in their public pronouncements, but adhering to traditional practices inthe classroom. Reflect If possible, obtain a copy of the curriculum guidelines from a ministry of education or official agency where you teach or where you are contemplating teaching. Does ‘task-based language teaching’ have a place in the curriculum? What is it?Learner rolesSo far, we have looked at task-based teaching from the perspective of thecurriculum developer and the teacher. In this final section of the chapter,I would like to look at the approach from the perspective of the learner. Learner-centredness has been an influential concept in language peda-gogy for many years, and, like TBLT, it has strong links with communi-cative language teaching. While the learner-centred curriculum will14
  27. 27. The role of the learnercontain similar elements to traditional curricula, a key difference is thatinformation about learners and, where feasible, from learners will bebuilt into all stages in the curriculum process, from initial planning,through implementation, to assessment and evaluation. Curriculumdevelopment becomes a collaborative effort between teachers and learn-ers, since learners will be involved in decisions on content selection,methodology and evaluation (Nunan 1988). The philosophical reasonsfor adopting a learner-centred approach to instruction have beeninformed by research into learning styles and strategies (Willing 1988;Oxford 1990), as well as conceptual and empirical work in the area oflearner autonomy (Benson 2002). Breen – a frequent contributor to the literature on learner-centredteaching – has pointed out the advantages of linking learner-centrednesswith learning tasks. He draws attention to the frequent disparity betweenwhat the teacher intends as the outcome of a task, and what the learnersactually derive from it. (We may parallel this with a similar disparitybetween what curriculum documents say ought to happen and whatactually happens in the classroom. Learning outcomes will be influencedby learners’ perceptions about what constitutes legitimate classroomactivity. If the learners have been conditioned by years of instructionthrough a synthetic approach (see the section ‘Alternative approaches tosyllabus design’), they may question the legitimacy of a program basedon an analytical view of language learning. As Breen notes, outcomes will also be affected by learners’ perceptionsabout what they should contribute to task completion, their views aboutthe nature and demands of the task, and their definitions of the situationin which the task takes place. Additionally, we cannot know for certainhow different learners are likely to carry out a task. We tend to assumethat the way we look at a task will be the way learners look at it.However, there is evidence to suggest that, while we as teachers arefocusing on one thing, learners are focusing on other things. We cannotbe sure, then, that learners will not look for grammatical patterns whentaking part in activities designed to focus them on meaning, and look formeaning in tasks designed to focus them on grammatical form. One way of dealing with this tendency is to sensitize learners to theirown learning processes by adding to the curriculum a learning strategiesdimension. Eventually, it should be possible for learners to make choicesabout what to do and how to do it. This of course implies a major changein the roles assigned to learners and teachers. By using ‘task’ as a basicunit of learning, and by incorporating a focus on strategies, we open tothe students the possibility of planning and monitoring their own learn-ing, and begin to break down some of the traditional hierarchies. This isnot to say that the teacher and learner will view the same task in the same 15
  28. 28. What is task-based language teaching?way and attach the same ‘meanings’ to it. Nor does it absolve the teacherfrom the responsibility of ensuring that through an appropriate sequenc-ing of tasks the appropriate ‘formal curricula’ are covered. Reflect Few curricula will ever be totally subject-centred or totally learner- centred. However, even in institutions in which teachers and learners have minimal input into the curriculum development process, it is possible to introduce elements of learner-centred instruction. Think about your own program, and list ways in which it could be made more learner-centred.ConclusionIn this chapter, I have introduced and defined ‘task’ in relation to thegeneral field of language curriculum design. I tried to tease out some ofthe conceptual differences as well as the relationships between key con-cepts such as curriculum, syllabus, methodology, task and exercise.Other important concepts included in the chapter were synthetic andanalytical approaches to syllabus design and experiential learning. I alsotouched on the place of a focus on form in the task-based classroom, aswell as the role of the learner and the importance of a focus on learningprocess as well as on language content. In the next chapter, I will set out a framework for TBLT along withthe elements that make up a task. These elements will then be elaboratedon in Chapter 3.ReferencesBenson, P. 2002. Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. London: Longman.Breen, M. 1984. Processes in syllabus design. In C. Brumfit (ed.) General English Syllabus Design. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Breen, M. 1987. Learner contributions to task design. In C. Candlin and D. Murphy (eds) Language Learning Tasks. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice- Hall.Brinton, D. 2003. Content-based instruction. In D. Nunan (ed.) Practical English Language Teaching. New York: McGraw-Hill.Burns, A. 2001. Genre-based approaches to writing and beginning adult ESL learners. In C. Candlin and N. Mercer (eds) English Language Teaching in its Social Context. London: Routledge.16
  29. 29. ReferencesBygate, M., P. Skehan and M. Swain (eds). 2001. Researching Pedagogic Tasks: Second language learning, teaching and testing. London: Longman.CDC. 1999. Syllabuses for Secondary Schools: English language secondary 1–5. Hong Kong: Curriculum Development Council, Education Department.Doughty, C. and J. Williams (eds). 1998. Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Ellis, R. 1994. The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Ellis, R. 2003. Task-Based Language Teaching and Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Feez, S. 1998. Text-Based Syllabus Design. Sydney NSW: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research, Macquarie University.Halliday, M. A. K. 1994. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. Second edition. London: Arnold.Hammond, J. and B. Derewianka. 2001. Genre. In R. Carter and D. Nunan (eds) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Johnston, K. and M. Swain (eds). 1997. Immersion Education: International Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Kohonen, V. 1992. Experiential language learning: Second language learning as cooperative learner education. In D. Nunan (ed.) Collaborative Language Learning and Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.Krashen, S. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Lantolf, J. (ed.) 2000. Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Littlewood, W. 1981. Communicative Language Teaching: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Long, M. 1985. A role for instruction in second language acquisition. In K. Hyltenstam and M. Pienemann (eds) Modelling and Assessing Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters.Long, M. and P. Robinson. 1998. Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In C. Doughty and J. Williams (eds) Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Nunan, D. 1987. Communicative language teaching: Making it work. ELT Journal, 41, 2, 136–145.Nunan, D. 1988. The Learner-Centred Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Nunan, D. 2003. The impact of English as a global language on educational pol- icies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 4, Winter 2003.Oxford, R. 1990. Language Learning Strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston: Newbury House. 17
  30. 30. What is task-based language teaching?Richards, J., J. Platt and H. Weber. 1986. Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. London: Longman.Ryle, G. 1949. The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson.Savignon, S. 1993. Communicative language teaching: the state of the art. In S. Silberstein (ed.) State of the Art TESOL Essays. Alexandria VA.: TESOL.Skehan, P. 1998. A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Stenhouse, L. 1975. An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann.Swain, M. 1985. Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass and C. Madden (eds) Input in Second Language Acquisition. Rowley Mass.: Newbury House.Swain, M. 1996. Plenary presentation. International Language in Education Conference, University of Hong Kong, December 1996.Tyler, R. 1949. Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. New York: Harcourt Brace.van Ek, J. 1975. Systems Development in Adult Language Learning: the thresh- old level in a European unit credit system for modern language learning by adults. Strasburg: Council of Europe.Wilkins, D. 1976. Notional Syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Willing, K. 1988. Learning Styles in Adult Migrant Education. Sydney: NCELTR.Willis, D. 1996. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. London: Longman.Willis, D. and J. Willis. 2001. Task-based language learning. In R. Carter and D. Nunan (eds) The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.18
  31. 31. 2 A framework for task-based language teachingIntroduction and overviewIn the first section of this chapter, I introduce a framework for task-basedlanguage teaching. The framework defines and exemplifies the key ele-ments in the model that underlies this book including real-world/targettasks, pedagogical tasks and enabling skills. The next section outlines aprocedure for creating an integrated syllabus around the concept of thepedagogic task. The section that follows is devoted to materials designconsiderations. It provides a procedure that can be used for planninglessons, materials and units of work. In the final section, the principlesunderlying the procedures described in the body of the chapter are laidout.A task frameworkAs we saw in Chapter 1, the point of departure for task-based languageteaching is real-world or target tasks. These are the hundred and onethings we do with language in everyday life, from writing a poem to con-firming an airline reservation to exchanging personal information with anew acquaintance. These three examples, by the way, illustrate MichaelHalliday’s three macrofunctions of language. Halliday argues that at avery general level, we do three things with language: we use it to exchangegoods and services (this is the transactional or service macrofunction), weuse it to socialize with others (this is the interpersonal or social macrofunc-tion), and we use it for enjoyment (this is the aesthetic macrofunction). Typically, in everyday interactions, the macrofunctions are inter-woven, as in the following (invented) example:A: Nice day.B: That it is. What can I do for you?A: I’d like a round-trip ticket to the airport, please.In order to create learning opportunities in the classroom, we musttransform these real-world tasks into pedagogical tasks. Such taskscan be placed on a continuum from rehearsal tasks to activation tasks. 19
  32. 32. A framework for task-based language teachingA rehearsal task bears a clear and obvious relationship to its correspond-ing real-world counterpart. For example, the other day I was teaching ona course designed to help my students develop job-seeking skills. Thetask that my students had to complete was as follows.Pedagogical task: rehearsal rationaleWrite your resumé and exchange it with a partner. Study the positionsavailable advertisements in the newspaper and find three that would besuitable for your partner. Then compare your choices with the actualchoice made by your partner.This task has a rehearsal rationale. If someone were to visit my classroomand ask why the students were doing this task, my reply would be some-thing along the lines of, ‘Well, I’m getting them, in the security of the class-room, to rehearse something they’re going to need to do outside theclassroom.’ Notice that the task has been transformed. It is not identical to the processof actually applying for a job in the world outside the classroom. In addi-tion to the work with a partner, the students will be able to get feedback andadvice from me, the teacher, as well as drawing on other resources. Not all pedagogical tasks have such a clear and obvious relationshipto the real world. Many role plays, simulations, problem-solving tasksand information exchange tasks have what I call an activation rationale.The task is designed not to provide learners with an opportunity torehearse some out-of-class performance but to activate their emerginglanguage skills. In performing such tasks, learners begin to move fromreproductive language use – in which they are reproducing and manipu-lating language models provided by the teacher, the textbook or the tape– to creative language use in which they are recombining familiar words,structures and expressions in novel ways. I believe that it is when usersbegin to use language creatively that they are maximally engaged in lan-guage acquisition because they are required to draw on their emerginglanguage skills and resources in an integrated way. Here is an example of an activation task. It is one I observed a groupof students carrying out in a secondary school classroom. It formed thebasis of an extremely engaging lesson to which all students actively andanimatedly contributed.Pedagogical task: activation rationaleWork with three other students. You are on a ship that is sinking. Youhave to swim to a nearby island. You have a waterproof container, but20
  33. 33. A framework for task-based language teachingcan only carry 20 kilos of items in it. Decide which of the following itemsyou will take. (Remember, you can’t take more than 20 kilos with you.) • Axe (8 kilos) • Box of novels and magazines (3 kilos) • Cans of food (500 grams • Packets of sugar, flour, each) rice,powdered milk, coffee, tea (each packet weighs 500 grams) • Bottles of water (1.5 kilos • Medical kit (2 kilos) each) • Short-wave radio (12 kilos) • Portable CD player and CDs (4 kilos) • Firelighting kits (500 grams • Rope (6 kilos) each) • Notebook computer (3.5 • Waterproof sheets of fabric kilos) (3 kilos each)This task, which worked very well, does not have a rehearsal rationalein that the teacher was not expecting the students to be shipwrecked inthe foreseeable future. The aim of the task was to encourage students toactivate a range of language functions and structures including makingsuggestions, agreeing, disagreeing, talking about quantity, how much/how many, wh-questions, etc. (It is worth noting, however, that learnersare not constrained to using a particular set of lexical and grammaticalresources. They are free to use any linguistic means at their disposal tocomplete the task.) One interpretation of TBLT is that communicative involvement inpedagogical tasks of the kind described and illustrated above is the nec-essary and sufficient condition of successful second language acquisition.This ‘strong’ interpretation has it that language acquisition is a subcon-scious process in which the conscious teaching of grammar is unneces-sary: ‘Language is best taught when it is being used to transmit messages,not when it is explicitly taught for conscious learning’ (Krashen andTerrell 1983: 55). The argument by proponents of a ‘strong’ interpretation of TBLT isthat the classroom should attempt to simulate natural processes of acqui-sition, and that form-focused exercises are unnecessary. Elsewhere,Krashen (see, for example, Krashen 1981, 1982) argues that there is a 21
  34. 34. A framework for task-based language teachingrole for grammar, but that this role is to provide affective support to thelearner – in other words it makes them feel better because, for mostlearners, a focus on form is what language learning is all about, but itdoes not fuel the acquisition process. In fact, Krashen and Terrell arguethat even speaking is unnecessary for acquisition: ‘We acquire from whatwe hear (or read), not from what we say.’ (p. 56). The role of a focus onform remains controversial, as we shall see in Chapter 5. My own view is that language classrooms are unnatural by design, andthat they exist precisely to provide for learners the kinds of practiceopportunities that do not exist outside the classroom. Learners, particu-larly those in the early stages of the learning process, can benefit from afocus on form (Doughty and Williams 1998; Long 1985; Long andRobinson 1998), and learners should not be expected to generate lan-guage that has not been made accessible to them in some way. In fact,what is needed is a pedagogy that reveals to learners systematic interre-lationships between form, meaning and use (Larsen-Freeman 2001). In the TBLT framework presented here, form-focused work is pre-sented in the form of enabling skills, so called because they are de-signed to develop skills and knowledge that will ultimately facilitatethe process of authentic communication. In the framework, enablingskills are of two kinds: language exercises and communicative activities.(See Kumaravadivelu 1991, 1993 for elaboration.) Language exercises come in many shapes and forms and can focus onlexical, phonological or grammatical systems. Here are examples of lex-ically and grammatically focused language exercises: ➳22
  35. 35. A framework for task-based language teachingLanguage exercise: lexical focusA Complete the word map with jobs from the list.architect, receptionist, company director, flight attendant, supervisor,engineer, salesperson, secretary, professor, sales manager, security guard,word processor Professionals Service occupations architect flight attendant …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. JOBS Management positions Office work company director receptionist …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. …………….. ……………..B Add two jobs to each category. Then compare with a partner.(Richards 1997: 8)Language exercise: grammatical focusA Complete the conversation. Then practise with a partner.A. What ………… you …………?B. I’m a student. I study business.A. And ………… do you ………… to school?B. I ………… to Jefferson College.A. ………… do you like your classes?B. I ………… them a lot.(Richards 1997: 8)The essential difference between these practice opportunities and thoseafforded by pedagogical tasks has to do with outcomes. In each caseabove, success will be determined in linguistic terms: ‘Did the learnersget the language right?’ In pedagogical tasks, however, there is anoutcome that transcends language: ‘Did the learners select the correctarticle of clothing according to the weather forecast?’ ‘Did they manageto get from the hotel to the bank?’ ‘Did they select food and drink itemsfor a class party that were appropriate and within their budget?’ 23
  36. 36. A framework for task-based language teaching Communicative activities represent a kind of ‘half-way house’ betweenlanguage exercises and pedagogical tasks. They are similar to languageexercises in that they provide manipulative practice of a restricted set oflanguage items. They resemble pedagogical tasks in that they have anelement of meaningful communication. In the example that follows, stu-dents are manipulating the forms ‘Have you ever . . .?’, ‘Yes, I have’ and‘No, I haven’t.’ However, there is also an element of authentic communi-cation because, presumably, they can not be absolutely sure of how theirinterlocutors are going to respond.Communicative activityLook at the survey chart and add three more items to the list. Now, goaround the class and collect as many names as you can. Find someone who has . . . Name . . . driven a racing car . . . been to a Grand Prix race . . . played squash . . . run a marathon . . . had music lessons . . . ridden a motorcycle . . . flown an airplane . . . been to a bullfight . . . been scuba diving . . . played tennis(Nunan 1995: 96)These then are the basic building blocks of TBLT. After a discussion ofsyllabus design considerations, we shall look at how these elements canbe combined to form units of work. The framework described in thissection is represented diagrammatically on the next page.24
  37. 37. Syllabus design considerations Real-world / target tasks Pedagogical tasks Enabling skills Rehearsal Activation Language Communicative <---------> tasks tasks exercises activitiesA framework for TBLT Reflect Find examples of these different task, activity and exercise types in a textbook you are currently using or one with which you are familiar. How are they combined?Syllabus design considerationsOne of the potential problems with a task-based program is that it mayconsist of a seemingly random collection of tasks with nothing to tiethem together. In my own work, I tie tasks together in two ways. In termsof units of work or lessons, they are tied together through the principleof ‘task chaining’. At a broader syllabus level, they are tied togethertopically/thematically, through the macrofunctions, microfunctions andgrammatical elements they express. I will explore the principle of taskchaining in the next section. In this section I will look at broader sylla-bus design consideration. 25
  38. 38. A framework for task-based language teachingConsider the following tasks:1. Look at the map with your partner. You are at the hotel. Ask your partner for directions to the bank.2. You are having a party. Tell your partner how to get from the school to your home.Syllabus design considerations: Example 1 Tasks Macrofunctions Microfunctions Grammar Look at the map with your partner. You are at the hotel. Ask your partner for directions to the Exchanging goods Asking for and Wh-questions bank. and services giving directions Yes/no You are having a questions party. Tell your Imperatives partner how to get from the school to your home.These are both underpinned by the same macrofunction (exchanginggoods and services), the same microfunction (asking for and giving direc-tions) and the same grammatical elements (among others, wh-questionsand imperatives).26
  39. 39. Syllabus design considerationsExample 2 provides a different set of tasks realizing the same macrofunc-tion of ‘exchanging goods and services’. But here the three tasks have dif-ferent microfunctions. One of the grammatical items, ‘yes/no questions’is recycled from example 1.Syllabus design considerations: Example 2 Tasks Macrofunctions Microfunctions Grammar Role play. You are in a clothing store and have $150 to spend. Your partner is the sales assistant. Look at the clothing items on the worksheet. Find out the prices and decide what to buy. Listen to the Exchanging goods Asking about How much?/ automated ticketing and services and stating how many? service for ‘What’s prices Yes/no on around town this questions weekend’. Make a list of movies and concerts and how much they cost. Work with three other students and decide where to go. Look at a set of ‘to let’ ads, and decide with three other students on the most suitable place to rent. 27
  40. 40. A framework for task-based language teachingThe third example illustrates the second macrofunction, that of social-izing. The microfunction and two of the grammar items are new but,again, yes/no questions are used.Syllabus design considerations: Example 3 Tasks Macrofunctions Microfunctions Grammar You are at a party. Introduce your partner to three other people. Socializing Exchanging Stative verbs Role play. You and personal Demonstrative: a friend have started information this at a new school. Yes/no Circulate and find questions out about your classmates.These considerations can all be pulled together and integrated by takinga non-linguistic organizing principle such as topics or themes and acontent-based approach in which other subjects on the school curricu-lum, for example science, maths or geography, provide the content. The table on p. 29 illustrates how a theme such as ‘the neighbourhood’integrates several tasks which are underpinned by a range of linguisticelements.28
  41. 41. Syllabus design considerationsTheme: The neighbourhood Tasks Macrofunctions Microfunctions Grammar Look at the map Exchanging Asking for and Wh-questions with your partner. goods and giving Yes/no You are at the hotel. services directions questions Ask your partner for Imperatives directions to the bank. You are having a Exchanging Asking for and Wh-questions party. Tell your goods and giving Yes/no partner how to get services directions questions from the school to Imperatives your home. You’ve decided to Exchanging Making Comparisons move to a new goods and comparisons with suburb/neighbour- services adjectives hood. Make a list of the facilities and services that are important to you and then decide on the best place to live based on brochures from local councils. You have just moved Socializing Exchanging Stative verbs to a new neighbour- personal Demonstrative: hood. Introduce information this yourself to your Yes/no neighbours. questionsAt this point, two questions arise. Firstly, what is the difference betweena ‘task’ and a ‘function’? Secondly, in what way does a syllabus orga-nized according to ‘task’ represent an advance over a functional or evena grammatical syllabus? A related question might be: won’t a syllabusorganized according to tasks be disorganized according to functions andgrammar? We have already seen in the boxes above that certain func-tional and grammatical items appear more than once. Tasks and functions are obviously closely related. Any task will beunderpinned by at least one (and sometimes several) functions. Tasks canbe thought of as functions + context. They allow for functions (andgrammar) to be activated in a particular communicative context. 29
  42. 42. A framework for task-based language teachingFunctions are more abstract realizations than tasks of the things we dowith language. In a program based on a synthetic syllabus (whether this be a gram-matical or functional syllabus), the learner, typically, will only get one ortwo ‘shots’ at the item in question. Synthetic syllabuses, sharing as theydo ‘a static target language product orientation’, have other problems aswell. Syllabus content is ultimately based on an analysis of the language to be learned, whether this be overt, as in the case of structure, word, notion or function, or covert, as has usually been the case with situation and topic. . . . it is assumed that the unit, or teaching point, which is presented will be what is learned and that it is efficient to organize and present material in an isolating fashion. SLA research offers no evidence to suggest that any of these synthetic units are meaningful acquisition units, that they are (or even can be) acquired separately, singly, in linear fashion, or that they can be learned prior to and separate from language use. In fact, the same literature provides overwhelming evidence against all those tacit assumptions. (Long and Crookes 1993: 26–7)In contrast with synthetic syllabuses, a task-based syllabus allows for agreat deal of naturalistic recycling. In a task-based syllabus, grammati-cal and functional items will reappear numerous times in a diverse rangeof contexts. This would appear to be healthy for second language acqui-sition because it allows learners to ‘restructure’ and develop an elab-orated understanding of the item in question. It is therefore consistentwith an ‘organic’ view of acquisition in which numerous items areacquired simultaneously, albeit imperfectly. From research, we know that if we test a learner’s ability to use a par-ticular grammatical form several times over a period of time their accu-racy rates will vary. Their mastery of the structure will not increase in alinear fashion from zero to native-like mastery. At times their ability willstabilize. At other times they will appear to get worse, not better. That isbecause, as Long and Crookes have pointed out, linguistic items are notisolated entities. Rather, any given item is affected by, and will affect,numerous others. As Rutherford (1987) has argued, language acquisi-tion is an organic process and, in acquiring a language, learners gothrough a kind of linguistic metamorphosis. Task-based learningexploits this process and allows the learner to ‘grow’ into the language(Nunan 1999).30
  43. 43. Developing units of work Reflect Select one or two pedagogical tasks and elaborate them in terms of macrofunctions, microfunctions and grammatical exponents.Developing units of workIn the preceding section, we looked at broader syllabus design issues. Inthis section, I would like to describe how we can develop instructionalsequences around tasks. Consider the following target task taken fromexample 2 in the preceding section:Look at a set of ‘to let’ ads, and decide with three other students on themost suitable place to rent.With a group of pre-intermediate level students, how can we create alinked sequence of enabling exercises and activities that will preparelearners to carry out the task? I would like to propose a six-step proce-dure, and this is set out below.Step 1: Schema buildingThe first step is to develop a number of schema-building exercises thatwill serve to introduce the topic, set the context for the task, and intro-duce some of the key vocabulary and expressions that the students willneed in order to complete the task. For example, students may be givena number of newspaper advertisements for renting accommodation ofdifferent kinds such as a house, a two-bedroom apartment, a studioapartment, etc., a list of key words and a series of photos of families,couples and single people. They have to identify key words, some writtenas abbreviations, and then match the people in the photos to the mostsuitable accommodation.Step 2: Controlled practiceThe next step is to provide students with controlled practice in using thetarget language vocabulary, structures and functions. One way of doing thiswould be to present learners with a brief conversation between two peoplediscussing accommodation options relating to one of the advertisementsthat they studied in step 1. They could be asked to listen to and read theconversation, and then practise it in pairs. In this way, early in the instruc-tional cycle, they would get to see, hear and practise the target language forthe unit of work. This type of controlled practice extends the scaffolded 31
  44. 44. A framework for task-based language teachinglearning that was initiated in step 1. They could then be asked to practisevariations on this conversation model using other advertisements in step 1as cues. Finally, they could be asked to cover up the conversational modeland practice again, using only the cues from step 1, and without the require-ment that they follow the conversational model word for word. At this point, the lesson might be indistinguishable from a more tradi-tional audiolingual or situational lesson. The difference is, however, thatthe learners have been introduced to the language within a communica-tive context. In the final part of the step, they are also beginning todevelop a degree of communicative flexibility.Step 3: Authentic listening practiceThe next step involves learners in intensive listening practice. The listen-ing texts could involve a number of native speakers inquiring aboutaccommodation options, and the task for the learner would be to matchthe conversations with the advertisements from step 1. This step wouldexpose them to authentic or simulated conversation, which could incor-porate but extend the language from the model conversation in step 2.Step 4: Focus on linguistic elementsThe students now get to take part in a sequence of exercises in which thefocus is on one or more linguistic elements. They might listen again to theconversations from step 3 and note the intonation contours for differentquestion types. They could then use cue words to write questions andanswers involving comparatives and superlatives: ‘The two-bedroomapartment is cheaper than the three-bedroom apartment’, ‘Which houseis closer to public transport?’, ‘This flat is the most spacious’, etc. Note that in a more traditional synthetic approach, this language focuswork would probably occur as step 1. In the task-based procedure beingpresented here, it occurs relatively late in the instructional sequence.Before analyzing elements of the linguistic system, they have seen, heardand spoken the target language within a communicative context. Hope-fully, this will make it easier for the learner to see the relationshipbetween communicative meaning and linguistic form than when linguis-tic elements are isolated and presented out of context as is often the casein more traditional approaches.Step 5: Provide freer practiceSo far, students have been involved in what I call ‘reproductive’ languagework; in other words, they have been working within the constraints of32
  45. 45. Developing units of worklanguage models provided by the teacher and the materials. At this point,it is time for the students to engage in freer practice, where they movebeyond simple manipulation. For example, working in pairs they couldtake part in an information gap role play in which Student A plays thepart of a potential tenant and Student B plays the part of a rental agent.Student A makes a note of his or her needs and then calls the rental agent.Student B has a selection of newspaper advertisements and uses these tooffer Student A suitable accommodation. The student should be encouraged to extemporize, using whatever lan-guage they have at their disposal to complete the task. Some studentsmay ‘stick to the script’, while others will take the opportunity to inno-vate. Those who innovate will be producing what is known as ‘pushedoutput’ (Swain 1995) because the learners will be ‘pushed’ by the task tothe edge of their current linguistic competence. This will result in dis-course that begins to draw closer to the discourse of normal conversa-tion, exhibiting features such as the negotiation of meaning. In thisprocess, they will create their own meanings and, at times, their own lan-guage. To begin with, this will result in idiosyncratic ‘interlanguage’, butover time it will approximate more and more closely to native speakernorms as learners ‘grow’ into the language. (See Rutherford 1987, andNunan 1999, for an account of language acquisition as an ‘organic’process.) As we shall see in Chapter 4, it has been hypothesized that suchcreative language work is healthy for second language acquisition (Long1985; Martyn 1996, 2001).Step 6: Introduce the pedagogical taskThe final step in the instruction sequence is the introduction of the ped-agogical task itself – in this case a small group task in which the partic-ipants have to study a set of newspaper advertisements and decide on themost suitable place to rent. This six-step instructional sequence is summarized on pp. 34–5. Whenusing this sequence, I sometimes at the outset show the students the finaltask in the sequence and ask them if they can do it. The usual responsefrom most students is a negative one (and sometimes one of outrighthorror). Generally speaking, however, students find it highly motivating,having worked through the sequence, to arrive at step 6 and find thatthey are able to complete the task more or less successfully. 33
  46. 46. A framework for task-based language teachingA pedagogical sequence for introducing tasks Step 1 Example Create a number of schema- Look at newspaper advertisements building tasks that introduce initial for renting accommodation. vocabulary, language and context Identify key words (some written for the task. as abbreviations), and match people with accommodation. Step 2 Example Give learners controlled practice Listen to a model conversation in the target language vocabulary, between two people discussing structures and functions. accommodation options and practise the conversation. Practise again using the same conversation model but information from the advertisements in step 1. In the final practise, try to move away from following the conversation model word for word. Step 3 Example Give learners authentic listening Listen to several native speakers practice. inquiring about accommodation and match the conversations with newspaper ads. Step 4 Example Focus learners on linguistic Listen again to conversations and elements, e.g. grammar and note intonation contours. Use cue vocabulary. words to write complete questions and answers involving comparatives and superlatives (cheaper, closer, most spacious, etc.). Step 5 Example Provide freer practice. Pair work: information gap role play. Student A plays the part of a potential tenant. Make a note of needs and then call rental agent. Student B plays the part of a rental agent. Use ads to offer partner suitable accommodation.34
  47. 47. Seven principles for task-based language teaching Step 6 Example Pedagogical task Group work discussion and decision making task. Look at a set of advertisements and decide on the most suitable place to rent. Reflect Select a target task and develop your own instructional sequence using this six-step procedure as a model.Seven principles for task-based language teachingIn this final section of the chapter, I will summarize the underlying prin-ciples that were drawn on in developing the instructional sequence out-lined above.Principle 1: Scaffolding• Lessons and materials should provide supporting frameworks within which the learning takes place. At the beginning of the learning process, learners should not be expected to produce language that has not been introduced either explicitly or implicitly.A basic role for an educator is to provide a supporting framework withinwhich the learning can take place. This is particularly important in thecase of analytical approaches such as TBLT in which the learners willencounter holistic ‘chunks’ of language that will often be beyond theircurrent processing capacity. The ‘art’ of TBLT is knowing when to removethe scaffolding. If the scaffolding is removed prematurely, the learningprocess will ‘collapse’. If it is maintained too long, the learners will notdevelop the independence required for autonomous language use.Principle 2: Task dependency• Within a lesson, one task should grow out of, and build upon, the ones that have gone before.The task dependency principle is illustrated in the instructional sequenceabove which shows how each task exploits and builds on the one thathas gone before. In a sense, the sequence tells a ‘pedagogical’ story, as 35

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